“Let me end here, on a plateau of happiness, rejoicing in my world as it turns inward once more toward creation.” — May Sarton, The House By the Sea
I’m not at an ending, but I am turned inward, and have been since the wind woke me up hours before dawn yesterday morning. It’s been a relief to talk to few people—texts with Katy D. about the nor’easter stealing her power and buying—finally—a digital copy of CMBYN, a few words with my favorite waitress Beze when I braved the wind yesterday for chocolate chip pancakes, assorted pleases and thank yous at Rite Aid, at Starbucks, but no real conversation.
I love being social, and I love sitting on my bed as I am right now in a pool of sunlight, finishing finally the last few days of Sarton’s journal for publication The House By The Sea. She, after all, inspired this project though she herself didn’t write everyday. (I know myself well enough to know I must take the extreme tack of writing every day in order to only miss a few days, as opposed to saying I’ll write every week or every other day in which case I’m sure to give up the project in a month or two.)
I thought I would write more about my daily goings-on in a more concrete sense, but it seems, as always, my concern is the emotional landscape, the past. I often ask artists when I interview them to tell me about their obsessions, the questions they return to time and time again. Mine is clearly how the past shapes us into who we are, and how its fingers—visible or not—have long reached into our futures. I suppose too I’m also interested in the question of forgiveness, and love too, but every artist is interested in the question of love one way or the other, don’t you think? Whether it’s love for a person, or a particular way of thinking and working, or particular materials. Is it fair to say we express who and what we love by the very nature of making art, whether that’s in affirmation or opposition to the beloved?
If I succumb and close my eyes and curl myself into this patch of sun—is it any wonder I’ve taken to describing myself as a cat in some of my poems?—this will be my second nap of the day. It’s occurring to me that allergy season has started and though the immunotherapy has, for the most part, ameliorated the worst of the symptoms, there is still always this lassitude as one season gives way to another, and my body puts up its dukes against new invaders, even as I keep telling it, Stand down, friend. There’s nothing to see here, nothing to fight. My body, as per usual, refuses to listen and/or cooperate.
Have I already told you that my favorite thing to do on a lovely day is to lie in bed with the windows open, the sun streaming across at least half if not all of the bed, lightly dozing and just listening to the world be the world—snippets of conversation, the grinding sounds the freight trains make as they pass through Silver Spring station, clapping and “Happy Birthday” sung at the Tex-Mex restaurant across the street, the burbling of the water feature in front of my apartment building all drifting up to my window in fits and starts, so I’m gently rollercoasting waves and waves of sound?
And you, your Saturday, how is the world being the world for you? Tell me dears, and I’ll like here in my little patch of sun and read all about it. I promise…
Editor’s Note: This post is transcribed almost directly from a “morning pages” journal entry so please forgive its lack of polish. I gave myself a writing prompt for the morning’s entry: “Why do you think you won’t sustain your weight loss without Weight Watchers even though you haven’t really been doing it? Why do you think you will succeed?”
Scale says 199 but I think I’m better than that inches-wise because my pj bottoms are dragging the floor. At the same time I feel sexy and confident in my body, it’s hard not to worry that I’m not losing anything. It’s smart that I stopped Weight Watchers. I was spending the money but not counting points or tracking. I’m nervous that I’ll be 50 pounds heavier again. I mean that’s what always happened when I went off the program before.
But I believe there is much that is different about this time. For one thing, when I went off program before—or should I say when I quit before—I was already way off program in terms of eating and boozing. This time I’m more balanced. I had strawberry shortcake yesterday but I also had fish and salad for dinner. I’m not exercising every single day but I am being more consistent. My mindset is one of focusing on healthier eating, which doesn’t mean no desserts or no alcohol but it does mean I’ve let go of having bread every morning for breakfast, I continue to not have sugar in my coffee, and I’m working on being mindful about my desserts. I’m more mindful of the difference between snacks and treats, and I love kale!
The most important difference is, I think, my attitude toward myself. I loved being skinny in the past when I was down 60 or 70 pounds. I loved the way I looked, the clothing size I could fit into, the compliments. But that was all superficial stuff. I don’t believe there was any change on my insides. I had changed my behaviors but not my attitudes [toward myself] so I was already halfway back to being 250 or thereabouts again. I was getting tons of validation for my physical achievements, but I still didn’t believe I was worth much. I still couldn’t get a boyfriend, my parents still didn’t love me, blah blah blah.
What’s different about this time—I feel my chest tightening and my arms tingling even as I write this—is that I’m engaged in an ongoing conversation about what I’m worth. The physical changes are nice, but what’s important is my attitude toward myself. I’m seeing past all the ways I wasn’t valued in the past to the woman I actually am—not perfect, but smart, kind, imaginative, creative, generous, and supportive, with a killer smile.
This time it’s not about working and trusting the program, it’s about trusting myself. I was always so unnerved by the fact of being an overeater for life, which is why I’d need Weight Watchers for life. But that’s bullshit. I do think that Geneen Roth* is right: if we stop to realize that our ways of dealing with pain, fatigue, boredom, etc. are outmoded, that they’re left over from childhood when we had no other defenses, then we can stop turning to them.
If I stopped sleeping** all the time to avoid my life, I can certainly stop eating my way out of it, too. It’s interesting that as I write this, my inner critic keeps resurrecting all the ways it thinks I’ve already failed: “But you had two bowls of cereal at Fran’s house—Lucky Charms! But you’re going to that event with Jillian on Saturday that is all about eating! But you had dessert yesterday when you said you weren’t going to and you had dessert with Joyce on Saturday! But you’ve been using your credit cards a lot even though you’re trying to get out of debt; if you’re doing that, how can you possibly keep yourself from regaining all the weight.”
I weigh myself every morning, just to give myself an (objective) reality check. My critic tries to weigh in too. “See, you’re up a pound; you’re going to gain it all back!” And even though I stay around the same weight within a five-pound range, my critic’s not happy It’s interesting how much I resist myself. I had said I wanted to get to a certain weight and then maintain for a while. And even though I’m doing exactly that—something I haven’t previously been able to accomplish—my critic isn’t satisfied.
There’s also another thing that’s different now. I’m willing to do it in stages. Even if I’m in the 190s for the next six months, there’s nothing that says I can’t push through anouther ten pounds next spring if that’s what I want to do. Our new office building will have a gym and I’m fairly certain I will exercise more consistently at a higher rate because of the convenience. I’ll stay an extra hour at work gladly if I can go downstairs and work out in the middle of the day rather than in the wee hours [of the morning] or when I’m super tired. I’ll also have a cohort of friends who belong to the same gym.
Notice I emphasized “want” in the last paragraph, and I think that’s the most important piece—along with self worth—that I’ve been working on. We all carry around a lot of “shoulds” and when shoulds stay undone, they produce guilt. And carrying all that guilt saps all our energy away from things like eating kale and taking a walk. We spend all of our time inventing ways to punish ourselves for our failures to attend to the “I should” list. A want is a different thing entirely. Wants have more flexibility and they seem to not have the built-in guilt factor if we don’t do them. But because it’s a want, a desire, we try a little harder to get it done. Going after a desire is so much more fulfilling—and fun—than a mere task.
If we truly value ourselves, we want those things that truly support and nourish us. We want that exercise to help us feel strong. We want that serving of vegetables because we feel full but light….
My inner critic just said, “Just because you wrote all that down it doesn’t mean you won’t fail. It’s not like you haven’t had epiphanies before, you know?”
But this isn’t an epiphany. It’s not an “aha!” moment or bolt-out-of-the-sky idea. It’s something I’ve known all along; I just didn’t realize I knew it. It’s a remembering, or, perhaps, a recognition. Whatever you call it, it’s real change, and Miss Critic can fuss and fume all she wants but I’m not going backwards or living in fear that this won’t work. As Geneen Roth wrote—I’m not broken. I’ve just finally chosen to recognize my wholeness, and, believe me, that radically changes things!
*I just finished Geneen Roth’s Women, Food, and God. Her idea of God is a bit wonky, but reading her book helped me articulate some of the wisdom that I think was already making itself known inside me.
**I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I never knew that the fact that I slept away half of my childhood was a sign of depression. Sigh…
Today’s one of those days where I feel like I’m living my “real” life, which is the life I take up when I can set my own rhythm, when the phone doesn’t ring (except once which resulted in me ordering FIOS), plans haven’t been made, and the only sounds in the house are the turning of pages (I’m making my way through Journal of a Solitude), the ticking of the clock fashioned out of an old tin tart pan that I bought at an arts fair in Provincetown more than a decade ago, the dragging of ink across a page (I finally wrote down my list of 50 Things to Accomplish This Year and started the lists of movies I’ve watched and books I’ve read), and the plodding of my slippered feet up and down the polished floorboards of the hallway as I accomplish little tasks (take down the Christmas tree in my room, make my bed, write a few more New Years cards, eat the entire box of generic baked wheat snack crackers that was on top of the fridge).
When I texted my sister this morning I told her my plans for the day were to nap and read and nap and read. There was only one nap and I did turn on the TV to watch Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death on Netflix Instant, but for the most part, today has been about the little domestic adventures: hanging a small amateur painting I bought at a yard sale last summer in the kitchen by the sink, reading the first half of the January issue of Living, Etc. (which is strangely their Christmas issue), wearing the orange bracelet I thrifted on Thursday for no reason at all other than I didn’t feel like putting it away when I unpacked the bag it was sitting in, idly thinking as I watered the three plants that this is the year I will finally repot the plant my friend A. gave me when I came home from the hospital seven years ago, divvying up all the little babies that have rooted themselves since then, each carving out its own little plot in the green pot, the way I have carved out mine.
This morning I was quite taken by the scene playing out across the living room window in the early light. The sun cast the shadow of a branch across the window, with the shadow of a squirrel chasing back and forth across the branch, so that I seemed to have my very own ethereal animated film. I have come to love this apartment though it was chosen for me, my sister and my mother finding a new place for me to live even though no one was sure I’d recover from the severe pneumonia. While I was in the rehabilitation hospital learning to use my atrophied limbs again, the occupational therapist would ask, “What does your bathroom look like?” “How close is your bed to the bedroom door?” Time and again, I’d answer, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
I hated this apartment when I finally came home to it. It was boxy and ordinary and even the wealth of closets couldn’t make up for its lack of charm. Though the apartment I was living in when I took ill turned out to be a death trap, I’d loved it. It was an English basement of a Victorian house. I painted the floorboards of the bedroom which was off the kitchen, sewed swathes of pink silk to curtain the old-fashioned windows that swung open inward like French doors. I constantly rearranged the furniture in “the great room,” which included a single bed I used as a couch, and sewed curtains for the bay window out of white fabric traced in blue glittery sworls and whorls. I tore pages out of a book of botanical photographs to hang above the radiator, and decided not to mind that there was an actual weed growing through the carpeting directly in front of the radiator. And I spent many nights lulling myself to sleep with a hot bath in the claw-foot bathtub that took up most of the space in the tiny bathroom that you went up three steps to reach.
I knew I couldn’t stay there, in my beautiful neighborhood of hippies and hydrangeas, once it was clear how sick I was, and, in fact, when I was in ICU, I begged my sister not to make me go back there. But still I couldn’t help but mourn its quirkiness and vintage charm when confronted with the quotidian, dingy cream walls of my new place. Now, seven years later, there’s a midnight blue wall in the living room, a shocking pink wall in the bedroom, a collection of crocheted and wool throws I’ve thrifted in the living room, two rugs based on the Gee’s Bend quilts I love, a faux Tulip table courtesy of IKEA, four vintage wooden Danish dining chairs, two Tord Boontje garland lamps—one of the first purchases I splurged on, a pull-out couch that I inherited from a friend and hope to keep forever, a vintage telephone table that I bought for $10 and recently recovered, plants I’ve managed to keep alive, a collection of Eiffel tower replicas including one that’s a combination liqueur bottle-music box, and art everywhere. On weekends, when I can linger in bed, I am often struck by the beauty of the early sun as it chases over my white sheets, and then, when I finally make my way to the living room, pinks the room in a way that is pure joy.
So here I am typing on my laptop, lying on the blue and white couch covered in the afghan my Granny Rosie crocheted for me 30 years ago, having spent the day watching the light move from a shy pink to that clear bright light particular to the winter. Now the outside world is all in silhouette, save for the punctuations of light from the apartments in the building across the driveway. As the twin pines outside my window stand sentry, as I ease into night knowing that the morning alarm must be set for church and that tomorrow evening I will trade this restorative solitude for the sweet balm of the laughter of friends, I am grateful to be an ordinary woman living an ordinary life on this ordinary, magical day.